Nothing to See Here

Mutilated books often come to Conservation for repair. We don’t normally like to talk about it, because no one wants to admit that it happens. It does, and it happens in almost every library. Luckily it doesn’t happen often. This week we had a book sent to us from the Stacks Maintenance unit. On the shelf it doesn’t look very damaged. The head is a bit torn, and it would normally go into the commercial binding workflow.

books on a shelf
Nothing to see here. Keep moving along.

The real problem was exposed when we opened the book. It was missing about 3/4 of the text block. All the pages had been cut out with what looks to be an X-acto or similar tool.

Book with missing pages
Ouch.

Before we did anything we needed information. We went to the stacks to look around. This book is shelved well above eye level on the top shelf. There were some paper fragments on the floor. We looked at the items around this one to see if other books were also vandalized but we didn’t find any further damage. Our next step was to ask some questions to determine if we could figure out what to do.

Putting on our Mr. Holmes hat

First we looked at the circulation record and determined that it had not circulated since 2013. That means the damage could have been done any time in the last seven years. More information was needed.

Next we talked to the Director of Security and Facilities to determine how often the stacks are swept, trying to figure out if this might be new damage or old. The stacks have been closed to patrons since March, it is unlikely that this was done during that time as our Security personnel are very good at their jobs.

We then talked to the Stacks Maintenance Supervisor. Amazingly one of their Student Assistants was working in that area and discovered the book was missing pages. The paper bits fell on the floor when she removed the book from the shelf. She took it back to Shelf Maintenance where staff looked at the item record. There were other copies available, and as we also noticed, they determined it hadn’t circulated in seven years. So they sent it to us for evaluation, which is the standard workflow for items like this.

What did we learn?

First, there is no way to determine if this was new or old damage. It is very unlikely that this was done in last nine months because of the Covid-19 lock down. This could have been on the shelf in this state for a very long time. There is just no way to definitively tell when this happened.

Finally, and most importantly, we learned that our system works. Our colleagues in Stacks Maintenance have a big job. Beyond re-shelving books they alert us to environmental issues such as leaking pipes, and they find damaged books when they are returned or at the shelf like this one. They are on the front lines when it comes to the preservation of our collections. We are so thankful for them and their student assistants.

What now?

Conservation routinely replaces missing pages. However, we normally cap that at ten pages per book. Beyond that number and we want Collection Development to review it, so we will send it to them for evaluation. Both Conservation and Stacks Maintenance will continue watching the area but we are fairly certain this is a singular incident.

With Disrespectful Love

Finding funny notes or inscriptions in books from the collection is such a delight. Rachel came across one this week in this book of poems that we just had to share.

Readers who are Brontë fans may recognize this as the first work by the sisters to ever go to print. They adopted masculine-sounding pseudonyms to avoid, as Charlotte later wrote, being “looked on with prejudice.” The starting letters of the first names correspond, with Charlotte writing as Currer Bell, Emily as Ellis, and Anne as Acton.

Moving the Duke Family

As readers may remember we had a painting at Lilly Library spontaneously fall off the wall this summer while we were all working from home. The painting’s hanging wire was very brittle and snapped. It’s difficult to say whether it snapped first then fell, or broke on the way down as it snagged on the hook. Regardless, we started worrying about the wires on the Duke Family Portraits that hung high above the reference desk, and whether those, too, were in danger of falling. After consultation with Lilly and library administration, we decided we needed to remove these before the semester began and before people were in the building again.

Needless to say this was not an easy endeavor. It took staff from Lilly, Conservation, LSC, Shipping and Receiving, Cataloging, and art handlers to make it happen. Here’s a visual play by play of the action. Click on the images for a larger view.

The first step was for our vendor to fabricate crates for each painting. Those were made and delivered to Lilly.

The “travel” crates have wood frames with corrugated coroplast sides to lighten the weight of the crates. Each painting ranges from 48″ wide to 73″ tall and 3″ deep. So every ounce counts with crates this size.

Next step was to get them off the wall and this required a small two-person lift. We had to temporarily remove the security gate to get it in through the front door.

Before crating we wanted to vacuum the decades of dust off the frames and paintings. While Rachel vacuumed, Peter and his crew kept removing paintings from the wall.

Next step was to attach coroplast backings and mounting hardware so we could screw them into place in the crates. It also gave us a chance at a closer look at the damage the frames have sustained over the years. Our decision to remove these now was confirmed when we saw that the eye screws in some were starting to pull out of the frames.

Next was to get them secured in the crates and labeled. We asked Cataloging to create stub records and assign barcodes for these so we could track their location in storage.

Once crated they were ready to move to the LSC. We had extra hands on site so that we could move them safely out of the building, down the ramp, and onto the truck. As four people moved the crates, one stayed with the truck to make sure the contents were secure.

These are now safely at LSC. One of the things we did right was to write the name of the portrait and the barcode on both ends of the crates just in case our lovely picture labels would not be visible when they were placed in the facility. Turns out that was a great idea because that is exactly what happened.

Moving these while the library closed proved to be a good decision. We had space to work safely and didn’t have to worry about working around staff or students.

The paintings will come back to Lilly Library eventually, once they’re able to be rehung safely and securely.

Photos courtesy Kelley Lawton, Rachel Penniman, and Beth Doyle. 

 

Sewing Models: Pandemic Edition

By Mary Yordy, Senior Conservation Technician

At the beginning of the quarantine, practical arrangements to retain connectivity to my desktop at work and forge other forms of digital connectivity with my workplace kept me busy. I researched questions about surface contamination of books and paper, I cleared out and organized files and reviewed hundreds of informative links and tutorials I’d neglected to study in my usual routine, wherein I’m juggling the day-to-day demands of my bench work against the influx of digital resources. But weeks became months, and I am used to seeing the results of a day’s work mounting up in the book press or filling shelves. Though I was diligent in my hours at home, after around six weeks I needed to produce something tangible, and I wanted it to be relevant to the life of the lab.

Work runs along a fulcrum from past to future that is understood collectively and concretely. Without that, it’s hard not to suspect we have become shadow boxers. How do we create assets for a post-epidemic future we cannot fully know? How do we make decisions about value and use without knowing what the future holds or when it will start? Luckily for me, the perfect project appeared under my fingertips late one night, going through my files at home: “Sewing Samples–2006.” Preserved within it were the beginnings of a project that related to the early history of the lab, one had the potential to provide knowledge to future workers in our craft.

The file held a collection of cards made during one of the early in-house workshops Beth Doyle taught for the three technicians on staff at the time: me, Rachel Ingold, and Diane Sutton. Beth taught us basic and more complex sewing methods, stitches and knots used in bookbinding. Recalling that day, sitting around an old library table in the 2006 lab, threw the impressive developmental span of Duke Library Conservation in sharp relief.

Sewing sample cover

In addition to the samples sewn that day on index cards, there was a nearly complete set of the stitches sewn onto black paper folia in the folder. I had never completed this more advanced solo project based on Beth’s original workshop. The idea was to make something visually appealing, complete, and inclusive of additional visual information to orient a beginner to the application of the stitch in 3-dimensional structures.

Left side fully open according fold sewing sample book.

 

Inside front cover with stab binding and other sewing samples.

 

Stab binding cards.

Stitch sample cards made in the course of workshops work well as memory prompts for people who have already learned them. However, for beginners, the flattening of the sewing process onto a card and the need to infer structural information can make them a little baffling. I had come across this file once or twice before and verified that it was a worthy goal.  But mid-quarantine, the project felt like more than that: it was like an arc from the beginnings of the lab, through this time of mass uncertainty, to the future gaze of someone beginning to learn bookbinding.

Caterpillar sample card.

 

I finished sewing all of the samples on the face of black folia, located other visual information needed to design inserts for each folio, and built a gate-format accordion album in a hard case to hold them all.  There are 8 spaces on the back of the fold outs so additional samples can be added–there are always more stitches to learn.

Caterpillar sample card (inside).

Return to Campus, part 2

We are slowly getting back to a “new normal” for the lab. Lab staff have returned on a two-day-on/three-day-off weekly schedule to allow for social distancing. We have new lab cleaning protocols in place for shared equipment, we are wearing masks, and we are figuring out how to navigate the building to avoid people as much as possible. We have also brought back the work we took to the secure stacks while we were away.

book trucks with conservation work to be done
They’re baaaaack!

Our current priority is to do repairs to support the Library’s “digital first” initiative. This means we are prioritizing repairs for digital imaging requests from faculty and patrons for the fall semester. We are also working on some exhibit prep and general collections repair. It feels really good to be back in the office and at the bench, even if it is for a shortened week.

Erin repairing items prior to digitization.

Look at These Labels

by Erin Hammeke, Senior Conservator

Archival boxes with picture labels of objects inside.

We get pretty excited about labels in the Conservation Services department, as evidenced by this post, and this one. Apart from spine labels, we frequently add signage to our enclosures to provide information about what’s inside and how it should be handled.

We often add picture labels to the outsides of our enclosures, particularly those containing fragile objects. We find these labels cut down on browsing and give and idea of what’s inside.

Picture labels can be created fairly quickly by capturing at relatively low resolution and under normal lighting conditions. We photograph items on a white background in our digital photographic documentation studio. Using the levels adjustments in Photoshop, select the white eyedropper and then select the white background. This usually causes the background to disappear and makes for a cleaner looking label.

Examples of object labels

We add in handling information specific to the item, such as HANDLE WITH GLOVES or CAUTION: SHARP!

We also print of sheets of small labels with common handling concerns, such as CONTAINS GLASS, FRAGILE, HEAVY. This makes for quick and easy labeling of boxes that otherwise wouldn’t get a special photo label.

Label that reads "Heavy"

Label that reads "Fragile"

We’ve even had luck playing with clip art to make some useful handling labels.

Label for a "two person lift", including the weight of the box.

Infographics

Graphic label showing how to move the object.

 

Label describing how to use enclosure with attached cradle.

Sometimes you need a simple and specific way of demonstrating how to handle an item, and narrative text or clip art just won’t cut it. We’ve had some luck creating infographic style labels using this process:

  • Take a high resolution photo of the action/item you’d like to have pictured in your infographic label.
  • In Photoshop, open your image and create a new layer on top of the image.
  • On the new layer you’ve created, trace the elements with a drawing tool. Working at 100% or higher, and using the smoothing settings will help to improve any jagged or rough-looking lines in your drawing.
  • Copy the layer with the drawing and paste it onto a new blank canvas with a white background. Make any final adjustments to your drawing, keeping in mind that it doesn’t have to be perfect.
  • Reduce the size of your drawing without reducing the file quality. Most of these images will not be printed out very large, so pick a label size, such as 2 x 4” and resize the drawing so it fits on that label. You will find that most imperfections in the drawing will not be noticeable when the drawing is resized.

 

Visions of the Alhambra

by Erin Hammeke, Senior Conservator

Title page of Alhambra

I recently finished repair on these two double folio volumes, concluding a multi-year project. I performed dry cleaning and page repair, in- situ sewing repair, board reattachment, leather rebacking, and leather corner repair. Working on two volumes this size and weight (35lbs each) proved to be both an engineering challenge and a physically demanding project. I came up with some solutions for a few of the challenges presented while treating these very large volumes that I’ll share here.

This two volume set by the architect Owen Jones documents the decorative surfaces at the Alhambra Palace in Grenada. The texts are most well-known for their beautiful, large-scale color lithographic plates.

Color lithograph Plate 1 in Alhambra

Front board with leather spine and corners and marbled paper over the boards.

The volumes were bound in half-style bindings with green sheepskin covering and marbled paper sides and endleaves. The boards were detached and the sheepskin was in poor condition, with many tears and large losses. We decided to remove all of the leather up to the gold tooled areas. After attaching the boards with the use of many clamps (my favorite tools!), and prepping the spine with sufficient linings and sham bands, it was ready for covering.

Large clamps affixed to the book's boards at the spine.

Relined textblock spine and book boards without leather.

I selected goatskins for the new leather and calculated that I would need three skins to cover both volumes’ spines and large corners. I dyed them to match the original – another challenge when working at this scale!

The sheepskin remnants were very thick, and did not take well to paring down and thinning. I was worried about having a smooth transition between the old and new leathers where they overlap. I realized I needed to pare the new leather to accommodate the old, but I didn’t want to lose the strength or dyed color of the hair side of the new goatskin. A piece from our Scharf-Fix that I’ve never used before provided the perfect solution. The kit comes with assorted roller sizes and we’ve only really ever used the full size (28mm) for edge paring.

Using one of the smaller rollers (13mm) along the meeting edges of the leather allowed me to take a step out of the flesh side that could accommodate the thick sheepskin remnants. I used the full-sized roller to clean up the stepped bevel by working it perpendicularly and off the edge.

Pared edge of leather, from the suede side.

Leather in the Scharffix paring machine

During covering, I worked this bevel in with my bone folder creating a precise step for the original leather to sit into and making for a flush transition.

New leather inserted under the original.

After adding new stamped leather spine labels, I created sleds that the heavy bindings can be moved on, hopefully protecting the covers from damage from being dragged across reading room table tops.

Finished book inside enclosure

Have you discovered other uses for the variously sized Scharf-Fix rollers? What are your tips for repairing oversized and heavy bindings? We’d love to know!

Quick Pic(s): Return to Campus

Yesterday was my first day back in the lab since mid-March and it was a bit surreal. The university was still in full operation the last time that I visited the library, so I wasn’t quite sure how it would look these days. Here are a few scenes from my day:

Unlimited parking!
The halls are eerily quiet, and there are new hand sanitizer stations.
Lots of new signage everywhere.
Bench, sweet bench!
My lunch companion. Even the squirrels are starved for social interaction.

The library building is still closed, it’s clear that a lot of people have been working hard to prepare for a phased reopening. I’m looking forward to working with collection material again – even if it’s just a few days a week.

FY2020: By the Numbers

It’s annual statistics time! As you can imagine Covid-19 struck a blow to our productivity in terms of conservation work. We have all been busy working from home improving documentation, learning new skills through online resources like the ICON Together At Home Webinar Series, and the Guild of Bookworkers generous online offerings during the spring, and of course we are all Zoom masters now.

FY2021 by the Numbers

609 Book repairs
671 Pamphlet bindings
8 Treatments: Other (objects, textiles, etc.)
154 Flat Paper repairs
4,956 Protective enclosures
419 Disaster recovery
4 Exhibit mounts
216.5 Hours in support of Exhibits (meetings, treatment, installation, etc.)
129 Digital preparation repairs
36.25 Hours in support of Digital Projects (meetings, consultations, handling, etc.)

43% of production was for Special Collections
57% of production was for Circulating Collections

80% of work was Level 1 [less than 15 minutes to complete; 4,298 items]
17% of work was Level 2 [15 minutes – 2 hours to complete; 925 items]
3% of work was Level 3 [2 – 5 hours to complete; 146 items]
0% of work was Level 4 [more than 5 hours; 31 items]

Our enclosure workflow is still the largest percentage of output. This trend will continue once the enabling work for the Lilly Renovation Project begins. We hope that will start this fiscal year, but budgetary constraints due to Covid-19 may see that work put on hold temporarily.

Other Things We Did Last Year
  • We hosted 25 tours of the lab totaling 90 people
  • We presented 35 Care and Handling Training sessions to DUL staff totaling 34 people
  • We hosted our third HBCU Library Alliance/University of Delaware-Winterthur conservation intern.
  • We worked on some cool things like the Encyclopedia Britannica 11th Edition (Mary), installed the Baskin Exhibit at the Grolier Club in New York City (Henry), listened to Erin’s lunchtime talk on Swiss Anabaptist Bindings that is now published in Suave Mechanicals v. 6,  learned more about the paintings in the Lilly Library (Rachel), and welcomed Jovana Ivezic as our new Senior Technician.
  • We had three awesome students this year: Selena, Leah, and Ally. Just before we were sent home our pre-program volunteer, Mackenzie, started working with us. Unfortunately, we are not able to bring any of them back this fall due to Covid-19 restrictions but we are looking forward to that possibility in the spring.
  • We surpassed a quarter million items coming through the lab this year. With FY2021 we are now at 268,696 items through the lab since 2002. It’s an amazing feat. I am so proud of our staff, students and volunteers that help make Conservation happen at DUL.

 

 

Duke University Libraries Preservation